By: Blair Kamin | Chicago Tribune
With the economy slowly improving and memories of the 2008 financial crisis fading, architecture came alive again in 2013. Bold new buildings arrived on the scene while old ones (with the exception of the former Prentice Women's Hospital) got new life. There were vigorous debates about everything from how to measure the tallest skyscraper to the ongoing relevance of the field's highest honor, the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
Rare integrity in Chicago: Chicago has enough corrupt politicians to fill a jailhouse, but at least an obscure skyscraper group here knows the meaning of integrity. The Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat ruled that New York's One World Trade Center is taller than Chicago's Willis Tower, declaring One World Trade Center is topped with a spire, which counts in official height measurements, rather than an antenna, which doesn't. As a result, when the 1,776-foot skyscraper opens next year, it will become America's tallest building.
Rare success in Lower Manhattan: The first office building completed at ground zero got the commercial remake of the ever-contentious, 16-acre site off to a solid start. Designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, the 977-foot 4 World Trade Center is a subtle, self-effacing high-rise that relates sensitively to a variety of urban contexts, including the neighboring National September 11 Memorial. But the $2 billion tower is only half-leased, casting doubt on the wisdom of developer Larry Silverstein's plan to rebuild all of ground zero's 10 million square feet office space.
Capitol grandstanding: Gov. Pat Quinn's populist criticism of the roughly $51.5 million renovation of the Illinois State Capitol's west wing may have been a hit with voters, but it won no prizes for aesthetic judgment. Carried out by a team of engineers, architects and craftsmen under the supervision of Capitol architect J. Richard Alsop III, the rehab breathed new life into a Gilded Age stunner, piggybacking recreations and reinterpretations of historic features onto improvements to the building's infrastructure. Forget the easy political target of the building's copper-clad wood doors. This one's built for the ages.
Undoing Wrigley Building mistakes: The $70 million rehab that modernized Chicago's eclectic Wrigley Building removed an antiseptic, refrigerator-style wall that had been glommed onto a ground-level façade of the beloved landmark three years earlier. In its place: More than 870 pieces of gorgeous new terra cotta that reprised the building's original cladding material and restored its festive glory. The project, led by Michael Kaufman and Leonard Koroski of Chicago-based Goettsch Partners, revealed that it is sometimes better to bring back the old rather than sharply differentiate old from new.
Divvy gets rolling: Despite a delayed launch, Chicago's Divvy bike-sharing network made a strong debut, changing getting-around routines with its distinctive pale blue bikes. In November, city officials promised that Divvy would expand to Oak Park and Evanston, bringing its total number of bike-docking stations to 475 and making Divvy the largest bike-sharing program in North America. Still, it will take a while longer (think frigid February) to determine whether Divvy is a fad or here to stay.
A broad-shouldered boathouse: Boathouses can be utilitarian barns or they can mine the demanding sport of rowing for muscular beauty. The WMS Boathouse at Clark Park, designed by Jeanne Gang and her Chicago firm Studio Gang Architects, belongs to the latter camp. One of two boathouses built this year by the Chicago Park District, the $8.8 million facility flaunts a serrated roofline inspired by the motion of rowing, plus plywood ceilings that echo the complex curves of racing shells. The result: A welcome shift from the stuffy elitism of old boathouses. The second boathouse, by Chris Lee of Johnson & Lee and located in Chinatown, also won plaudits for its industrial-strength gustiness.
High marks for a new school: School buildings for young children don't have to be relentlessly cute. That's the enduring lesson of the early childhood learning center of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools by Joe Valerio and his Chicago firm, Valerio Dewalt Train Associates, assisted by FGM Architects. Called Earl Shapiro Hall, the $52 million building combines an exuberant, expressive exterior with an innovative interior that enables the progressive private school to carry on its tradition of "learning by doing."
Taking on the Pritzker Prize: Architecture isn't just buildings; it's arguments, and there was no hotter argument in 2013 than the one spawned by two Harvard Graduate School of Design students who launched a petition urging that Denise Scott Brown be "retroactively acknowledged" for work that helped her husband, Robert Venturi, win the 1991 Pritzker Prize. The students, Arielle Assouline-Lichten and Caroline James got no satisfaction from the Pritzker Prize jury, but they did spur a debate about the obstacles facing women architects and whether the award, sponsored by Chicago's billionaire Pritzker family, does enough to recognize architectural partnerships rather than singular authors. Two women and two partnerships have been honored since the prize was established in 1979.
Fond farewells: Among the notables the architecture field lost in 2013 were two pioneers in the male-dominated field. At the New York and Chicago offices of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Natalie de Blois played a leading role in the creation of such modernist icons as the former Pepsi-Cola headquarters in Manhattan. The field also bid a sad goodbye to the great New York architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable, who wrote with a soaring intellect and a street-smart wit. The first winner of the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, she was one of architecture's most influential and memorable voices.